....In a Data Driven Marketing World
By Brian Proffitt
First Published on The CMO Site
It should come as no surprise that the current focus on big-data and the constituent near-worship of analysis is getting some strong pushback from many critics who insist that intuition and experience still have a valid place in the business world.
Take Xerox, for example. CMO Christa Carone described a recent "major repositioning effort" for the company essentially as a result of a gut feeling.
Carone scoffs at the idea that data alone should be used for decision making:
“Indeed, marketers "know" more than ever. We have information about our customers' needs, preferences, purchase histories and spending patterns, and insight about the messages that prompt them to act. Thanks to social-listening tools, we also know what they are saying about our products, services and our brand. And that's the tip of the iceberg. I wouldn't want to give up the data that helps us make fact-based decisions quickly. But I fear that marketers' access to and obsession with measuring everything takes away from the business of real marketing”.
Carone is not advocating the abandonment of data as a decision-making tool, but she advocates a lessening on the importance of data for marketing decision making.
Carone's decision may not be wrong, but curiously it is not necessarily at odds with the rise of big-data.
The "ahhhh" moment Carone speaks of is that spark of unique insight and creativity that all of us can have when suddenly we can see the world as a cohesive whole -- or, perhaps, sideways. This perception is born, not only from what we observe, but from what we, the observers, bring to the observation. "Intuition" is really nothing more than a decision based on patterns and events we've seen before, even if those events and experiences are completely sublimated in our own consciousness.
By advocating bringing our intuition to the table as marketers, Carone is not rejecting the use of data. Indeed, her argument actually seems to work for big-data, and highlights a key point about any sort of data analysis.
It is often argued, as it was quite adroitly in Michael Lewis's Moneyball, that data analysis runs counter to intuition. In baseball, general managers would often get caught up in their own intuition and not see the bigger picture that the numbers of the oh-so-stat-rich sport of baseball generate. Run the numbers and leave intuition behind, the argument goes, and you will succeed in all things.
But there is a flaw in that argument: With access to the same numbers, why are some teams continually behind? By the pure logic of Moneyball, seasons should be a much closer affair, and some teams should be able to improve (yeah, I'm looking at you, my beloved Cubs).
The simple answer is that, despite data, life happens. Things change, players are injured, and perhaps the numbers were analyzed differently. That, really, is the key to both Carone's arguments and my own: In the world of big-data, there is still very much room for intuition. In fact, it remains one of the most important requirements.
With so much scientific method being applied to the art of marketing, there is still ultimately someone who will need to look at the data -- along with every other component of a given project -- and make a decision.
The numbers help. Sometimes they even lead to stunningly new insights. But ultimately the data is just another tool. Data still must be examined in light of our own experiences and intuition, because the numbers don't make the decisions. We do.
What do you think? What role does intuition play in a data-driven marketing world?
Brian Proffitt is a veteran journalist/analyst with
experience in a variety of technologies, including open-source, cloud,
virtualization, and consumer devices. An adjunct instructor at the
Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame, he can be
followed on Twitter at @TheTechScribe.